Rob Casey is the owner of Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle and is the author of two paddling guides.

Friday, August 19, 2016

4 Tips for Buying a SUP

I get about 5 requests a week about which board to buy, where to purchase it or to compare boards found on Craigslist or elsewhere. Sometimes folks ask me to help sell boards they bought online or at Costco that didn't work for them. Here's a few tips to be more knowledgeable about the process of finding gear as well as how to avoid getting the wrong board.

Always try before you buy. I say this to most of my students but still see folks going to Costco
or buying sight unseen from online sources. This is the most important tip. Ya, Costco or an online retailer might be cheaper than a local store but no one there has any clue about you, your paddling style, the waters you paddle on and how your body type will work on their board. There's nothing more important than finding out how the board feels to you on the water. Is it tippy? Is it heavy to carry? Can I car-top it? Is it slow or hard to keep straight? Take the time to do the proper research to avoid getting a dud.  

Don't buy a board just because it comes with a free paddle. Most package deal paddles suck! Sorry for the language, but we've seen it over and over again. Most package deal paddles are aluminum and are super heavy. If the foam core in the shaft comes out, they'll sink (seen it). Heavy means it's hard to paddle and will add weight thus stress on your shoulders. Usually you can't tell which way the power face is. Free carbon paddle? Have you tried it? Carbon doesn't mean it's a good paddle or is light. I've seen heavy and/or stiff carbon paddles. Most package deals don't come more important items, a PFD or leash. Buying a paddle is a personal thing. Most paddlers want a good paddle that feels good to the hands, has a nice shaft flex, fits their budget and/or has a certain type of power face or blade width. Inflatable paddlers want a light paddle. Many paddles that come with inflatables are surprisingly super heavy (one student donated her paddle to me as a result).

Boards Cost too Much - Yep but both inflatable and fiberglass board are very expensive to make and are usually shipped here from elsewhere. It is a problem since a family of four can't buy 2-4 boards for less than a grand. Inflatables are the most affordable option if you're buying a few at a time. Late summer to early fall is the best time to buy as retailers are dumping their 2016 boards to make room for the next year's boards. The soft foam boards such as the one pictured leak and may only last you 1-2 seasons before it gets super heavy (see it). They're also super thick thus tippy for taller folks. \

Tip for Families: Buy only 1-2 boards as several kids can be on one board a time and usually only use it as a floating platform. Teach your kids how to paddle tandem (2 on a board). This works well and some families we know even race with one of their kids on their board. During a 6 kids class I had this year, we brought only 3 boards and put 2 kids on each board. Worked great! 
Don't Always Believe the Manufacture's Specs - A student approached me the other day and noticed that the board he bought floats people up to 230lbs. I looked at it and replied - no way! I'm a big guy and sink most boards that are not 5" thick and 32" wide. Some board specs may say a board isn't good for surfing but better for this or that. That's a marketing ploy to channelize their marketing efforts. All boards surf, tour, race, etc.  

Why I don't do Retail - Many ask why I don't do full retail. Truth is, margins are super small and it's very difficult to make a profit. Plus with so many online options, most buyers will go for the cheapest board vs the best, and often will skip loyalty for price. For example, I've been trying to sell one of the fastest and more efficient downwinder boards on the market for an amazing price of just wholesale (Imagine Connector 14'). But folks prefer to buy what they see the pros on or what their friends use even if it's not the best board for their needs. The rep took the board back this week to try to sell in Hood River this weekend. I'll miss it, an epic ride. And there's no money in selling leashes and smaller items unless you're doing high volume. My dyslexic mind doesn't allow me to cross that bridge (not good at math or money mgt).  

Other Gear to Get - After you get your board, remember to get a lifejacket (PFD) and leash.  These are very important items that even us pros use daily. I'm never good to paddle either item! Generally we go with a coiled leash (non surf) and vest PFD for the pockets, warmth, visibility to boaters (don't get black). Kayaking PFDs have many options. Co2 works if you know how to use it - fire one cartridge before going offshore. Most haven't done that.

Here's an in depth video about Buying a SUP from Blue Planet's Robert Stehlik. Definitely watch this!

Any Questions? Give me a holler, always glad to help. Check out my lessons in Seattle too. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How to Make a Soft Rack Safe Enough for Highway Travel

How to Make a Soft Rack Safe Enough for Highway Travel

Securing Boards Safetly with a Soft Rack
One of our students approached me last weekend to carry her board to Deception Pass, as her soft rack didn't seem safe on the highway. When she arrived at my garage, I worked with her to make her soft rack a safe option for highway and long distance driving. Here's how we did it...  What is a Soft Rack?  

1. Place your board on your car with the leash plug over your windshield (tail first). Deck up or down doesn't matter. Though I generally go deck up for the nose rocker will allow me to open my hatchback.  

2.. Make sure you soft rack is secure and as tight as possible on car and rack.

3. Add two more car rack straps over the board on both ends placing them as wide as possible. Open all side doors and thread the straps through the car - with both loose ends inside the car. Thread the loose end through the buckle, then tighten as much as possible. I put my weight int to, not just a light pull. Then for safety tie a knot the loose strap ends in case the buckle loosens. *Many worry about denting their car roof. Generally this isn't a problem and if it is, the roof will bounce back most often. Note: I'm not a fan of the metal crank buckle straps, they can tighten too much damaging your board. I use these or similar. 

4. Thread a rack strap through your leash plug string (should be parachute cord or similar) then one end through a solid metal loop under the front end of your car (or through a metal front grill). Secure both ends by pulling lightly so as to not pull the tail of the board down too far. 

5. Do a shake test - Go to both ends of the board(s) and push, pull and shake them (be
Rack straps over soft rack straps and board
aggressive) to make sure they're tight.  If not make adjustments where necessary. Check your load 10-20 miles down the road to make sure all is good. Use all your weight to tighten straps as long as the board or car doesn't make funny sounds.

Loading Tips:
- If loading a few boards, before tightening, place insulation foam or rack pads between each board ends where they curve up to prevent the boards from spinning or sliding onto of each other.  Remove fins if loading 2-3 boards, they stack easier. 
- Tie extra strap ends around the bars securely (tight) as a backup in case your buckles or knots fail. 
- Twist straps before tightening to prevent whistling on the road. Concave decks and flat straps = super noisy. 

Safety Tip: Don't load more than 2-3 board for soft racks. 

Cost Saving Tip: If your car comes with a stock rack - just use that for your main rack. No need buy a brand name rack unless you need specific things such as a bicycle attachment, etc.  Pad the rack bars with insulation foam or rack pads.  

Questions? 206.465.7167 or
Interior view of secured straps

Monday, August 15, 2016

Can't Paddle your SUP Straight? Here's a few tips..

Can't Paddle your SUP Straight?  Here's a few tips..

- Make sure you paddle shaft is vertical during your forward stroke.  This means your upper hand will be over the water and/or your wrists are stacked. If your shaft angles over your board (very common) you're doing a slight sweep stroke thus turning the board.  Have a friend follow you from behind to see if your shaft is vertical.

- Many curve their paddle blade around the curve of the nose on the catch. This is a J stroke as you're creating outward pressure to draw the blade to towards you. Instead, imagine a straight line from your feet (parallel to the rail) that leads directly towards your (board) nose.  When you take a stroke with your vertical paddle, draw the blade straight down towards your feet. If it curves at all, you'll turn the board.

- Look where you're going. As a drivers Ed teacher told me in 1985, if you look at the at dog out the window, you'll drive there If you watch where you're going, your body will take you there. If you watch your paddle, you'll go in the direction you're facing. Use this technique to assist our turns too - instead looking where you want to go - or not looking at an obstruction you don't want to hit.  At Deception Pass or on a river, when crossing current, watch your destination - the board will take you there.

If you're doing all the above and you're still turning, a few misc tips.. 
- Get a bigger fin. Larry Allison's Gladiator and Ninja fins will do the job (they're big).
- Take the paddle out at your feet during the forward stroke. Going beyond rotates your body thus turning the board.
- Loosen grip on your paddle. A death grip may rotate the paddle shaft during your stroke.
- If you have a  6-9' board with a lot of rocker you may have to do all of above to keep it straight.

Questions? Give me a holler,

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Paddling Safety with Your Kids

Paddling Safety Tips with Kids -
On a daily basis in Seattle this summer, we see parents with no PFD and leash on boards with their kids who generally do have a PFD on. In case of an accident, will the kids save the parent?

The number one cause of most SUP fatalities are when the paddler gets separated from their board. Usually the board is found, not the paddler. If a paddler has a vest PFD on, they will more likely stay afloat when fatigued, cold or injured.  The leash keeps them connected to an additional flotation device, their board. Even with my experience, I never paddle without a vest PFD and leash (but no PFD when coastal surfing).

Think also about the conditions you're paddling in. Can you handle wind, current and large boat wakes? If not keep to wind protected areas or pick a calmer day. Check the weather for the day to see if wind or a storm is predicted later on. In June a mother took her kids out on a reservoir in Colorado. A large lightening storm came up (was predicted) and lightening struck the mother and the dog. Both died.

Additional items useful for parents to carry on their board when with kids:

- Communication device - Cell phone in a wp bag or VHF radio to call authorities in case of an accident. Or in our experience, if they spot someone else in trouble.

- Whistle - This is required by the Coast Guard to have on your vest (or C02 pack). But doesn't work blowing upwind.

- Deckbag - Bag on your deck to carry extra clothes, food, etc. I use the bags by Seattle Sports and SealLine.

- Also consider creating a Float Plan - This means telling another parent or close friend of your paddling plans (departure/arrival/location).

Suggested Book - Paddling with Kids by Lessels & Blom, AMC Books.

10 SUP Deaths this Summer!

10 SUP Deaths this Summer!
This summer, 10 people have died from paddling a SUP.  The yearly average is usually 5 per year.  It's not surprising that a sport growing this quickly will have an increased accident/fatality rate.

Of those deaths, each were due to not wearing a lifejacket and/or leash.  One or two were related to not wearing those but in addition going out in conditions above the paddler's skill level.

A few tips on staying safe on the water..

The Problem with C02 PFD's
In time of panic, a C02 PFD will fail if a person is in panic, has been knocked out, or they're in heavy seas and unable to reach the string to pull.  In two reported deaths in recent years, C02's were worn but not inflated. If you wear one - test it and learn how to put them on prior to getting on the water. If you're been wearing one for years, test it. Most I've spoken to don't know what happens after you pull the string - it's not as easy as you think. Is your canister up to date?

Wear a Vest PFD - Type 3
A vest PFD is on you - you don't have to put it on in times of trouble.  It'll keep you warmer and good ones have pockets to put things in (food, phone, whistle, extra hat).  A PFD on your board is useless if you're not wearing a leash. In Hawaii, no one wears a PFD. Experienced paddlers there always wear a leash and are very good at swimming especially in surf conditions. Most of the SUP deaths have been in Florida, where the heat may prevent folks from wearing a PFD.

Paddling with Kids -
In the US, kids are required to wear a PFD under the age of 13.  Oddly, parents rarely wear a PFD or leash with their kids.  Will your child save you? Think about it..

- Communication device - Cell phone in a wp bag or VHF radio to call authorities in case of an accident. Or in our experience, if they spot someone else in trouble.

- Whistle - This is required by the Coast Guard to have on your vest (or C02 pack). But doesn't work blowing upwind.

- Deckbag - Bag on your deck to carry extra clothes, food, etc. I use the bags by Seattle Sports and SealLine.

- Create a Float Plan - This means telling another parent or close friend of your paddling plans (departure/arrival/location).

Any questions give me a holler -

Friday, July 29, 2016

Health Update - Looking 100%!!

Since my last posting, I've had a 100% turn around!  A new general doc gave me a Cat Scan that revealed two large clots in my lungs, a condition also called Pulmonary Edema.  Turns out this was the cause of my shortness of breath!  After a night in the ER, and a ton of blood thinners, my breath came back within 24hrs and my strength has since recovered to nearly pre-Spring levels. I was given permission to paddle a week and a half ago, and since then permission to travel and paddle regularly.

Thanks to the PolyClinic in Seattle for not only saving my life but also helping me get back on the water!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Health Reality Check - Temporary Change of My Course

In January of this year, I was racing in a 6 mile course through Seattle but noticed I was feeling more winded than usual, panting right off the starting line and well into the course. Usually my 17 foot unlimited board makes for an easy flat water race, but on this day I felt like I was on a 9' board going uphill.  This pattern of fatigue continued throughout the winter during moments of heavy exercise when surfing, racing, and downwinding.

By late winter, my 2006 Subaru Forester had sprung roof leaks due to saltwater corrosion (and my poor care) and as a result mold began to build in the carpet.  We began to wonder if my breathing issue was a result of mold.  I booked a doctor's appt to investigate. The doctor's diagnosis came as a shock - I may have a heart issue.  He told me to immediately stop exercising (middle of downwind season?) and to see a cardiologist. My dad has afib and has had two ablation procedures, so it was looking like I inherited the family heart issue.  The cardiologist, Dr Willem at the PolyClinic in Seattle put me through a few tests which confirmed I have an irregular heartbeat.  Bummer.

Four months later, we're still testing various heart medicines to see which recipe works best for me.  Unfortantly, the condition has worsened to the point of me being winded even when walking up stairs, carrying a sup or sometimes even bending over.  Everyone including the doctor tells me there is a solution, and that it can take up to six months to find it.  Looks like I'm on that track.  Everyone also says 'this shouldn't be happening to you, you're so young.'  At 47 and getting winded for walking up stairs, I'm not feeling that young.

Today's doctor appt resulted in one more medicine adjustment then if that doesn't work we may be talking about a pacemaker or ablation 'procedure' (surgery).  He says the pacemaker will make me 100% but has a month downtime after the procedure. Hmm.. I feel like crap now and it's affecting my paddling business/life so do I do it now wait till fall after my season has slowed or ended?  Difficult choice.

As a result of this, I'm learning to run my business differently by delegating more classes and tours to my instructors and am training new instructors to take the load. Our busiest instructors are now on payroll.  As summer goes in the NW, it's getting busy so I'm only taking a few classes including the more specialized ones where my instructors skills aren't quite there yet.

Will update...

Update as of 8/4/16 - See the next post! Thanks to an open minded newish doctor I'm 100% after she took the time to get me a Cat Scan which found blood clots in my lungs or in short Pulmonary Edema.  I spent 24hrs in the hospital on blood thinners, and with close monitoring of my condition after, I'm amazingly feeling 100%!!  I'm back to paddling and freighter wave surfing while building my physical level back up after months of down time.  I taught my first class last weekend. Feels great to be back!  Tip: If you're in a pickle health wise, look outside the box for another solution. I didn't feel the heart was the problem (had a suspicion it was in the lungs) and followed my instinct by exploring further and benefited from doing so.

Thanks for your support!  Rob